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Algol (β Per) is a bright eclipsing binary system located in the northern constellation of Perseus and one of the best-known variable stars in the sky. Often referred to as the "Demon Star" most of the time it shines at magnitude +2.1 but every two days, 20 hours and 49 minutes the star suddenly dips in brightness to magnitude +3.4, remaining dim for about 10 hours before returning to its original state.

Why the change in brightness? The Algol system consists of at least three-stars (β Per A, β Per B and β Per C) with the orbital plane of Algol A and B directly in line with the Earth. The regular dips in brightness occur when the dimmer B star moves in front of and eclipses the brighter A star. There is also an extra dimension in that a secondary eclipse occurs when the brighter star occults the fainter secondary but this results in a very small dip in brightness that can only be detected by those with access to photo-electrical equipment.

Algol System (credit - Dept. of Physics and Astronomy - Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville)

Algol is located in Perseus among the stars of the northern Milky Way. It's positioned west of magnitude +0.1 star Capella (α Aur) and southeast of the well known "W" of Cassiopeia. The finder chart below shows the position of Algol along with magnitude data of some surrounding stars for comparative purposes.

Finder Chart for Algol (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for Algol (credit:- freestarcharts) - pdf format

For those new to variable star observing, Algol is an excellent first choice target. It dims quite dramatically and the regular brightness changes are obvious to the naked eye. The table below contains date and time information of Algol's minima for May 2016 for various World time zones that cover most regions of Europe, America, China and Australia. For time zones not listed, local eclipse times can be calculated by adjusting the table to fit to the observers local time.

Algol Minima for May 2016

DateTime (UT-GMT)Time (BST-UK)Time (CEST-Europe)Time (EDT-N America)Time (PDT-N America)Time (CST-China)Time (AEST-Australia)
May 0319:0820:0821:0815:0812:0803:08 (May 4)05:08 (May 4)
May 0615:5716:5717:5711:5708:5723:5701:57 (May 7)
May 0912:4613:4614:4608:4605:4620:4622:46
May 1209:3510:3511:3505:3502:3517:3519:35
May 1506:2407:2408:2402:2423:24 (May 14)14:2416:24
May 1803:1304:1305:1323:13 (May 17)20:13 (May 17)11:1313:13
May 2000:0201:0202:0220:02 (May 19)17:02 (May 19)08:0210:02
May 2320:5121:5122:5116:5113:5104:51 (May 24)06:51 (May 24)
May 2617:4018:4019:4013:4010:4001:40 (May 27)03:40 (May 27)
May 2914:2915:2916:2910:2907:2922:2900:29 (May 30)